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Posted by on Sep 20, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Francis is pretty cool, except for the God stuff

Pope-FrancisRecently, I got an email inviting me to read this piece about Pope Francis.

Here’s my reply:

Absolutely.  Francis is a welcome development in the Catholic church.  I’m watching with interest.  Today, he came close to telling the truth:  that continuing to bray against contraception and homosexuality is laughably out of touch with genuine love for humanity.

But of course, he can’t say anything bad about God.  His comments about finding God are a step in the right direction:  if there is a God, no church has special access.  But he doesn’t say anything about God’s character.  He’s too politically smart to touch that topic.  But any theologian knows this much:

If God is real, it doesn’t follow that we should worship him.  It really matters what God is like.  He could exist and be unworthy of our devotion.  Mere existence isn’t enough.  He must be deserving of respect and love.  

Francis is very expansive on how people can find God.  But however we experience God, there are limits to what he can be like.  We know this much for sure:  He either can’t reduce suffering further, or he doesn’t care to.  There are no other options.  This is a logical necessity, so It isn’t arrogant to say it with certainty.  In fact, I must say it in order to look my neighbor in the eye.  

So, if he is all good, he must be constrained in some way.  He must be unable to treat the least among us any better.  This was Rabbi Kushner’s position.  

But the price of this view is high:  If God can’t do any better, it means he can’t help us any further, despite the fact that humans reduce suffering all the time with Tylenol, surgery, insulin and on and on.  If humans can do it, it seems God could.  But believers are very clever and haven’t given up finding a way out for god:

Here’s one possibility: humans can do evil and God can’t.  Perhaps the help humans give to make up for God’s neglect is evil.  God is constrained by his nature to do only what is good.  Perhaps all the bad things we see are either Good from God’s perspective, or they are the evil acts of errant humans.  Surely God is not responsible for any of the Bad stuff.

But then we’d have to say that reducing suffering that God does not might be evil.  Toothbrushes are of the Devil, derailing God’s plan that millions die of tooth infections.  Obviously, this turns normal morality inside out:  if God does nothing to help a kid who’s on fire, it’s Good.  And if a human does help her, it might be evil, unless God is working through that human.  

But what of those cases where kids die alone in wells, fires or crushed under rubble?  God sends no human to help them, and does nothing himself.  In these cases, the believer has to say God can’t do any better, lest he cause greater suffering elsewhere.  Trust him.  But trust like this isn’t trust.  When we trust someone no matter how they treat us, that is abuse.

Suffering makes sense in a natural world.  It’s even expected.  The problems begin when we try to place a loving, powerful God above it all.  

It seems that most people simply have such a great need for a loving God that they hold out hope against hope that he can be all Good.  But as far as I can tell, it is ruled out.  The most the believer can hope for is that God might be good to them.  But if he’s already doing the best he can, then he can’t even control who prospers and who suffers.  Leibniz realized this, and said that this world must be the best of all possible worlds, because God’s nature would not let him create anything else.

So, any God who fits the facts is pitiful.  He weeps with us, unable to do any better.  He’s locked into his nature, along for the ride in his own creation.  Sure, he can take credit for love and puppies.  But he’s on the hook for smallpox and Batten disease.  Tough spot.  That’s not the God of the Bible, and it’s not Jesus’ God.  It’s more of a force of nature, made miserable by being conscious and moral, yet limited in what he can do.

I can’t love my neighbor while worshiping a God who could do better and just doesn’t.  And the most I can feel toward a weak god is pity.  If you have a better god, I’d love to hear about it.  

As far as I can tell, to hold out hope that God is perfectly loving is to defect from the human family, hoping to get some of God’s love while being sure billions more won’t.

This is what Francis can’t say, because he’s a politician, and politicians are in the business of staying in power, not telling the truth.

“Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.”  –  Mahatma Gandhi